As the ball swings around the perimeter from one corner to the opposite wing, Robert Covington bends his knees. When leather finally meets his hands, Covington swings his pivot foot towards the three-point arc and snaps the ball below his knees, only to cork it high above his head to unfurl yet another rainbow long ball that pierces the net.
The sequence was a staple of the Philadelphia 76ers' offense last season, especially as the shot clock crept down towards zero. Covington ranked 10th in both three-pointers attempted and made a year ago. He's a bonafide marksmen and has the length to at least be a pest on defense at this juncture.
Covington can become so much more, though. People always seem to forget that having an elite NBA skill also strikes fear in opponents. When a point guard knifes into the paint and sees an elite rim protector charging forward, panic can ensue: The mind goes blank and your often left with that little guy tossing up a wild shot or fumbling a kick-out pass. The same effect can occur when an elite shooter tees up from distance. Defenders forget all about the other four offensive players. Anything else would be better than hearing some sharpshooter splash yet another triple. And while chasing over to that shooter, the entire defense shifts to overcompensate for that run out. It leaves the defense susceptible to all kinds of driving and cutting lanes.
It's a horribly grainy video I used for a SLAM Magazine piece a few years back, but you can still see how Chandler Parsons leverages the threat of his outside shot to get all the way to the rim. There's a stigma that great shooters can't do anything else offensively. That's only the case if a terrific shooter doesn't know how to utilize both the shot and the threat of that shot.
It seems like Covington is starting to recognize when the threat of his jumper can actually be more lethal than the jumper itself. He torched Sasha Vujacic — yes, not the league's stingiest defender — early in Monday night's preseason affair in Manhattan.
The rotating defense is practically begging to be attacked off the bounce. It's so easy to utilize a charging defender's momentum against him and bounce the opposite direction into the paint. Covington is so long, he only needs one or two dribbles to get all the way to the rim as well, and he's smart enough to dump off to cutters and big men if the defense collapses on his drive.
He does need to improve around the rim, however. On 190 attempts last season, Covington made a below-league average 54.2 percent of his shots in the restricted area. That number may seem satisfactory, but it doesn't allude to how he struggled finishing through contact.
He muffed an easy fast break layup around Vujacic just two minutes later. With just over seven minutes left in the fourth, Covington bricked a driving layup attempt over Lou Amundson he likely would have converted if he used proper footwork and his left hand.
Expecting Covington to grow into an ankle-breaking penetrator from the top of the key is unrealistic. But seeing him develop an off-the-bounce game to attack closeouts and rotating defenses is the next logical development in Covington's offensive arsenal. It's how Danny Green transformed from D-League castoff to a vital cog on the San Antonio Spurs.
Covington looks as if he's starting to get the hang of it. It will be fun to keep an eye during the regular season.